The Metaverse Is Beautiful and Light
It's easy to feel pessimistic. It's easy to argue over what the Metaverse actually means. But most people who use the term mean it as a signal for a better digital future.
I'm feeling good.
Being houseless I've started moving around again after...well, after the last 18 months, and we all know what that has been like.
And it's hard not to like checking email while drinking a cup of Costa Rican coffee and watching the waves (that's my view, above). Or to be able to do a quick ocean swim before a meetup with the provocative title: Metaverse or Shmetaverse - the big debate!
The conversation was great. And honestly there wasn't that much I disagreed with.
Each of the panelists brought their own agendas and viewpoints, and I've always loved how provocative Avi can be. Abby Hunter-Syed was mostly pitching portfolio companies and the glorious deep fake/AI-driven world we're all headed towards.
But the title set the tone: this was all about the experts throwing some cool, soothing water on the Metaverse-y people.
I didn't take notes (the bloody monkeys kept distracting me), so don't take these as actual quotes or views from the session. They're more like impressions - and they're ones you can find easily enough elsewhere:
- One of the problems with all the talk about the Metaverse is privacy is never discussed. And Facebook. And Facebook.
- The Metaverse will trend towards ad-strewn experiences...because it will. If only we could PAY for our social media services ($20 a year was thrown around) then we could break the yoke of ad-supported digital experiences.
- An AR version of the Metaverse is dangerous because we'll be walking down the street and suddenly surrounded by content, bombarding us with stimuli, half of it billboards. (I really have no idea who actually thinks that's what is meant by the Metaverse including AR...but there you have it)
- Massive chunks of digital content will be generated by AI. Deep fakes are going to eat the world. And...isn't that great? Diversity. Or something.
- NFTs are artificial scarcity and don't we actually want abundance?
- We need new search. We need new search. Search and discovery will solve all our problems. (I don't disagree by the way...and believe many many people will help to solve this problem in truly innovative and empowering ways)
- If you're using the term Metaverse you'll look like a dinosaur in a few years. Like those old relics who once used the term "cyberspace". (They all ended up with jobs at Walmart, I guess). But sure! Go ahead. No harm. Just realize that the really, really smart people will be able to spot you.
OK...I might be feeling a little over-caffeinated.
But actually: I don't particularly disagree with any of that.
The "Metaverse" has been attached to...everything. There's a chaos of competing claims for what it will be, how it will be developed, and how it will all be paid for. And yet it still isn't clear...when will I be able to log in?
Facebook is spending loose change to make sure the Metaverse is safe! And responsible! But the money is frankly a rounding error in their Metaverse lobbying budget (of which it should really be considered a part), and the company is now labelled the largest autocracy on earth...and a foreign hostile power.
But let's chill for a minute. Pura Vida! Because there's another story.
The Metaverse Is Human and Polite
Look, the battle isn't won. Privacy, surveillance, security and our data being vacuumed up to feed the ad machine is still a very real possibility.
But I've yet to meet a single person in the "Metaverse space" who talks about user data and its value. It is JUST NOT A TOPIC. No one is pitching new "ad supported 3D conference centers!"
I strongly believe that user privacy and protection is a cultural given. There is a vision for a decentralized Metaverse and that vision doesn't include ad networks.
Again, I'm not saying that the big companies won't eventually decide that they want to make bank on data, and I'm not naive about Facebook (or Niantic, or Epic, or anyone else with data silos).
But I'd propose that the default setting for the Metaverse is currently privacy on, surveillance off.
There is incredible innovative around avatars and permissions, sovereign identity (you own and safeguard your own identity), the right to anonymity (which generally means a right to not be under surveillance), and quantum-safe distributed data (keeping data out of the massive silos they live in today).
Whatever you think about Facebook, they at least seem to be trying to break free of their own self-restraining (and highly profitable) yoke of data-based advertising...or at least expanding their revenue palette a bit.
And so...sure. People don't bring up privacy the first time you chat about the Metaverse.
But I honestly believe that's because as a community there's a general ethos that we want to do better. That we want a more human, a more polite, and a more person-centric way of handling information.
The Metaverse Is Democratic and Distributed
NFTs are not artificial scarcity.
An NFT is an emblem. If you understand that emblem, you understand that it represents a new way for communities to self-organize.
NFTs represent a break from content being delivered from the mountaintop of art galleries and movie studios, ad agencies and CPGs.
They are the first demonstration that by creating a distributed ledger of digital content, we can now start to do some pretty amazing things:
- The barriers to collaboration collapse. We no longer need to hire a team of lawyers to protect our interests as we work together.
- Instead of "open source" we're entering an era of "paid open communities".
- When coupled with DAOs, social tokens and alternative currencies, NFTs allow for grassroots, highly organic, highly participatory and massively scalable initiatives on...well, on anything. Not just the creation of a Twitter profile photo.
- If that's true, it means that there is intense pressure on large-scale organizations. The old gatekeepers aren't the only game in town anymore.
- As these initiatives move beyond the few simple "prims" we see today into more elaborate tasks, they'll shift into everything from sustainability to community improvement.
By marrying digital tools to contracts, content, rights and licenses, and commerce, there is a powerful ecosystem which might just give Facebook a run for its money.
This would tend to suggest that the Metaverse is pre-disposed to being distributed, decentralized and more democractic.
If you're talking about the Metaverse and dismissing NFTs, you're going to conclude that our futures are in the hands of Epic and Facebook. And you'll ignore the Bored Apes.
Now, I don't personally think the Metaverse will be solely built on blockchain. And I believe that there will be far more free content than content that you pay for or that is backed by an NFT.
But they will be powerful fuel rods that will help shape vast continents in the Metaverse.
The Metaverse Is Building Beautiful Things
Sure, there are probably startups out there throwing the word Metaverse around because they think it will attract money.
The panelists at Metaverse or Shmetaverse seemed to collectively chuckle. One of them said the term made him cringe when startups use it. They all seemed to agree: "if it will get you cash, great! But we're smarter than the VCs and we SEE you."
What do I know? No one's pitching me.
What I DO know is that I see a dozen new launches every day, hear and see the chats across countless channels.
And the companies talking about the Metaverse are doing fricking cool stuff: from game development platforms constructed to support player economies to avatar projects with Hollywood-worthy plotlines.
If you're not impressed with the level of creativity...with the explosion of innovation, then you might be looking in the wrong place.
These aren't VR or AR or app companies. These are companies with a purpose: to bring new stories, tools, and experiences to an open, interconnected Metaverse.
The Metaverse Is People
I don't know what the Metaverse is. It's a work in progress.
I don't know what it will be called in a decade.
What I do know is that the people who use the term today are usually deeply concerned about how it's built, are running experiments to work out how to do it well, and are creating new forms of storytelling and self-expression.
They're not just talking, they're doing.
Even the big companies, from Epic to Facebook, from Niantic (with it's, um, real world metaverse or whatever) to Microsoft are all at least speaking from a common songbook: "no one can own the Metaverse, it will be built by many people, it will be big and it will unlock new human potential".
(Whether you can fully trust how they will exploit it for profit is a different question).
And so whether large or small, the folks who use the word "Metaverse" are really sending out a signal: "I want to build something beautiful. I want it to be open to everyone. I want to make some money doing it but I want there to be enough money for everyone. I want it to be more human than the digital worlds that have come before. I want to solve hard problems. Let's build this together. You in?"
And so you have a choice when you hear the word: argue whether they mean to include AR or not, get into a debate about how dangerous the whole thing seems, argue whether the word will still be around in a decade, or dismiss the possibilities of NFTs or blockchain or whatever as a passing fad.
Or do what I like to do. And ask how I can help.
How can I help? I'm honestly open to ideas! Have I had too much sun? I can be anxious too or get lost in definitions. We're figuring this out together.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Twitter.
Let's start a conversation.